Dieters love celery, cooks love it and the farmers in Ventura County grow a lot of it. It's a low-calorie, easy-to-prepare vegetable and customers may want to stock up on it as the last celery crop this year is now being harvested locally.
"It's easy to grow but needs a lot of water and fertilizer. The soil and climate here is ideal for growing celery. A lot of us celery growers are eager to get our last crop in, because of the quarantine," said John Wooten of Camarillo.
Because of mosaic disease, which attacks celery, the farmers in Ventura County have decided not to grow the vegetable from about mid-July to mid-August, Wooten said. "The quarantine stops the cycle of the disease so it can't spread. . . . It gives it a period so it can't regenerate and get stronger and stronger in the county. Before the quarantine, the celery crop was really in jeopardy, and the sprays to control the disease were getting stronger and stronger."
Wooten, who grows organic celery, recommends eating the leaves at the top of the plant. "We use it in our rice, our casseroles," he said. "Just as if it were spinach."
Celery grower Brian McGrath of Camarillo has some tips for customers. "It's an expensive crop to grow because it takes a lot of water," he said. "Customers should look out for 'pink rot' at the bottom of the stem. It's a little bit of mold that's whitish and pink-colored. That's an indication of too much water used to grow it."
A sign of too little water is "black heart," a dark spot that can be found at the root of the celery, McGrath said.
"Some people look at the celery and see how nice and green it is and think it's going to be bitter," he said. Color is not an accurate indication of taste, because there are several varieties of celery with varying shades of green.
Ventura County has the largest celery crop in California, said Swede Severson, a statistician with the California Agricultural Statistics Service. It is harvested three times a year in the county--fall, winter and spring. Last year a total of 11,100 acres were harvested, Severson said.
If celery doesn't appeal, strawberries and tangerines are a tasty option for consumers seeking locally grown fare.
"Our strawberries are organically grown and super-sweet now," said Sharon Lee, co-owner of Rancho Arnaz in Ojai.
Another hand fruit is pixie tangerines, small, seedless and "perfect for just peeling and eating," said Tony Thatcher, manager of Friend's Ranch in Ojai. For those who haven't yet tried them, they'd better buy some soon since the pixie tangerines will only be available for another few weeks.
Those looking for something imported can get Kona coffee from Hawaii and Barhi dates from Barstow, said Scott Walsh, assistant manager of Trader Joe's in Ventura. "Barhi dates are smaller dates and are a lot sweeter," he said.
Local fishermen are bringing in snapper and sea bass caught from the Channel Islands area, said Joe Carabajal of Otani Izzy Fish Market in Oxnard. "They're excellent for tempura and barbecue."
LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE AND SEAFOOD Bennett's Honey Farms--Four varieties of honey. 3678 Piru Canyon Road, Piru.
Brandon King Seafood--Local spot prawns caught from Port Hueneme, Dungeness crab from Alaska, all live. 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard.
Cal Pacifica--Local fresh halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawns and several varieties of shark. 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura.
Carson Farm Supply--Navel oranges and blood oranges, 111 Topa Topa Road, Ojai.
Central Market--Pencil-thin asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, navel oranges and strawberries. 505 Wood Road, Camarillo.
Friend's Ranches--Tangerines, tangelos, lemons and navel oranges. 15150 Maricopa Highway, Ojai.
Otani Izzy Fish Market--Snapper and sea bass. 610 South A St., Oxnard.
Queen Ranch--Cauliflower, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, mushrooms and strawberries. 3400 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.
Rancho Arnaz--Strawberries, lemons, apple cider, pistachio and cashew nuts. 95 North Ventura Ave., Ventura.
Seaside Banana Gardens--50 varieties of bananas. 6823 Santa Barbara Ave., Ventura.
Somis Farm--Asparagus and broccoli. 2766 Somis Road, Somis.
Underwood Ranch--Lettuce, radishes and baby vegetables. 5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.
Ventura Farmers' Market--Wide variety of locally grown vegetables and fruits. Wednesdays at Main Street and Mills Road, Saturdays at Santa Clara and Figueroa Streets in Ventura.